Falk enriches history of president’s house

In light of President Falk’s decision to move to a new home in Williamstown, we decided to dig up the history of the house that he was leaving behind. So what stories did the house have to share? This question turned into a deeper investigation into presidential homes throughout the College’s history. As Falk ushers in a new era of presidential housing, I looked back on some of the other buildings that have housed the College’s presidents.

My search first led me to Kellogg House, which the College Archives and Special Collections revealed was built in 1794 for Ebenezer Fitch, the College’s first president. It stood where Hopkins Hall is now, on land donated by the College benefactor David Noble. In 1843, the College’s Board of Trustees decided to allow future presidents to reside at Kellogg rent-free. Kellogg was the presidential residence for four generations of College presidents – Ebenezer Fitch, Zephaniah Swift Moore, Edward Door Griffin and Mark Hopkins – and for over six decades, from 1794 to 1858.

Kellogg House was turned into faculty housing in 1858 when former College president Mark Hopkins moved to the Sloan House, another building on campus.

Sloan’s move brought my search to our current president’s house: the white-shingled building with the glass-walled porch on Route 2. Many students are acquainted with this building because of Halloween trick-or-treating, but it has a lot more history then most people know. The house was first built in 1801 for the wealthy Williamstown businessman Samuel Sloan. Historically called the Samuel Sloan house, or just the Sloan house, it was quite an impressive feat of construction for its day and for its humble surroundings, with woodwork imported from Boston. The house then passed through several hands until 1858, when the College, financed by benefactor Nathan Johnson, purchased the house. It was then that the Samuel Sloan house became the College president’s house and the building entered a new phase of its existence.

The presidential house has become a quintessential part of both the College’s landscape, history and even its classroom discussions, as the history of the Sloan house is covered in Art History 101. “We were told that the house was given as a wedding present to a local couple,” Ada Berktay ’16 recalled from one of her lectures. The local couple in question, it seems, was one of Sloan’s daughters and her husband. “That’s why the house is so clean and white, and why the architect chose to use slanting wooden planks to cover the house: it’s meant to be reminiscent of a wedding cake!” Berktay said. Indeed, the house’s whiteness, and in particular the contrast of the whiteness to the rustic red brick buildings that surround it, make the house look just as dainty and delectable as any wedding confectionary. A decorative panel, picturing two hearts that are connecting by a chain, can be found above the house’s front door. The piece, which was carved in Boston and shipped over, is another indication that Sloan commissioned the house as a wedding gift for one of his daughters.

The Sloan house has undergone massive restorations over the past couple of years to turn it into the presidential residence that it is today. In 1872, Kellogg house was moved close to where Stetson Hall exists today, and the land it formerly stood on was turned into a lawn. The house was moved one last time in 1919, when it was moved down the hill so that Stetson Hall could be constructed. Finally in 1978, the Center for Environment Studies moved in. Now that President Falk is moving away, however, we seem to be at a new crossroads for the history of the president’s house. Will President Falk take the president’s house with him to his new residence just as Mark Hopkins took it from Kellogg to Sloan? Will this usher in a new era wherein the College’s presidents live off-campus? What will become of the Sloan or Kellogg Houses now?

Only time will tell.

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